Visiting the Declaration of Independence and Constitution
Every baby boomer traveler should put Washington D.C. on their bucket list. And while there, view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom inside the National Archives Experience.
It is important to note that very long lines of uninformed travelers line up to see the free exhibit. You can avoid the long exterior portion of the line by making an advance reservation. Click the above link to learn more about museum hours and visiting information.
It was a cold, drizzly day when we visited the National Archive Experience in April of last year. With our advance reservations in hand, we were able to bypass a long line of hundreds of umbrella-holding tourist waiting to get inside as street vendors walked up and down the line selling inexpensive umbrellas.
The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom is the permanent home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights. These three documents, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, have secured the rights of the American people for more than two and a quarter centuries.
- The Declaration announced to the world on July 4, 1776, that thirteen British colonies in North America were leaving Great Britain to form a separate nation, called the United States of America. In justifying the revolution, the Declaration asserted a universal truth about human rights.
- The Constitution, drafted in 1787 after a hard-won victory in the War for Independence, codified the spirit of the Revolution into an ingenious practical scheme of government to promote the welfare of all its citizens.
- The Bill of Rights, added to the Constitution in 1791 as the first ten amendments, explicitly protected freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of assembly, among many other rights.
To avoid massive crowding around the documents, an armed guard monitors the flow of people into the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Therefore, even though we avoided the massive line outside, we still spent roughly 30-minutes standing in a line before the rotunda.
As a photographer, I was bummed to see that there was no photography allowed inside the display. So much for my own cherished photographs. It is, however, understandable. There were perhaps 100 people crowding around the documents to get their own up-close-and-personal view. If they were also trying to frame a photograph, it would be chaos.
There was a hushed reverence in the room as the people fairly orderly walked in front of each of the documents. People seemed to linger longer over the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution than over the Bill of Rights.
I would watch peoples’ faces as they looked at the Declaration of Independence. It was as if people would go into a small trance before the document. Their eyes became somewhat glazed, and you could almost hear the wheels turning behinds their eyes as they pondered. Then, after the prolonged pause, each would bend over to get a closer inspection of the document under bullet-proof glass before they moved on to the next display.
It was now my turn…
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…and …We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Growing up in a small midwestern town, I came to this point in my life with a certain amount of respect; not only for these documents, but particularly for the brave, intelligent men who were about to throw the 13 colonies into war over freedom, democracy, and a new government created by the people, and for the people.
I am very glad to have had my time in front of these revered documents. I highly recommend, if you haven’t, to journey east and have your own trance-like pause in front of our country’s charter documents.